Thursday, September 15, 2005

Oil for Food is a story about what the United Nations is

U.N. incompetence and corruption enabled Saddam Hussein to siphon more than $1 billion from an oil-for-food program that was flawed from conception to conclusion, an independent commission said yesterday
writes Betsy Pisik. More than $1 billion. Think about that the next time you are told that the half million dead Iraqi babies (as counted by Saddam's Ministry of, ahem, Information) are the fault of the American-led embargo and, therefore, the fault of America itself.
Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette and other close aides to Secretary-General Kofi Annan suffered harsh criticism in the five-volume report by the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, which cited the complicity of U.N. member governments and Security Council diplomats.

Mr. Annan described the report as "painful for all of us" and immediately accepted responsibility for those shortcomings attributed to him. But he promised no firings or resignations in connection with the report's findings.

He was faulted in particular for failing to order a credible investigation of whether a contract was improperly awarded to Cotecna Inspection Services SA, the Swiss firm that employed his son.

The report also said Kojo Annan used his father's name in late 1998 to buy a $40,000 Mercedes and ship it to Ghana, securing a $6,500 diplomatic discount and saving another $14,100 in duties.

"He will have to speak for himself," Mr. Annan told reporters.

This is considered good enough. In the meantime, it is considered entirely appropriate for George W Bush to be pilloried for what his grand-father did before he was even born.

While the AFP describes French diplomats under investigation (Serge Boidevaix and others), Le Monde whitewashes Kofi Annan and manages, through the use of exclusive interviews with whining UN members, to turn the scandal into an anti-American (or an anti-neocon) piece (third para), including a sentence that criticizes the handful of journalists (such as Claudia Rosett, presumably) for following the lead of the neocons and, I surmise, not sticking to the official story.

Then there is the main story of the day, which Le Monde headlined on top of the front page of its dead-tree version as Bush surprend l'ONU en plaidant pour les pauvres (Bush Surprises the UN with His Plea in Favor of the Poor); (real) translation: apart from the Americans, their neo-cons, and the dirty capitalist pigs, everyone in the world lives in harmony (or would like to — supposedly including the leaders of Iran, of the [now defunct] Iraq of Saddam, of China, of Russia, of Sudan, of Zimbabwe, of North Korea, etc, etc, etc) and shares the dream of a bright future for all. Indeed, an editorial goes on to (yawn) lambaste "the Manichean tone of his usual speeches", "a certain arrogance", and "the calamitous situation in Iraq".

In that perspective (of all of the above), it is good to remember Claudia Rosett's investigations and how Mark Steyn pointed out that the only reason we know about Oil-for-Food in the first place is

because the US invaded Iraq and the Baathists skedaddled out of town leaving copious amounts of paperwork relating to the Baghdad end of Oil-for-Fraud
"No wonder the UN Opposed War with Saddam" I called my post based on Steyn's piece. Another Daily Telegraph article, by Francis Harris (merci RV), brings revelations about the three countries that, with Germany, did most to oppose Bush's intervention in Iraq, thus bringing them kudos from all over the world and earning them the coveted title, "Peace Camp".
Russia, China and France sabotaged UN Security Council efforts to crack down on Saddam Hussein's manipulation of the oil-for-food programme, the Volcker report says.

They worked effectively to assist the Iraq dictatorship, which, according to numerous Iraqi witnesses, had decided to give contract preferences to "companies from countries perceived as sympathetic to the lifting of [UN] sanctions, most prominently some members of the Security Council."

…The report names China, Russia and France as the main obstacles to a more effective system. Britain and the US repeatedly proposed changes, only to be blocked by the pro-Iraqi trio. The report says there was no sustained effort by the Security Council to tackle claims of corruption or the milking of the programme by Saddam.

No wonder the "peace camp" members opposed war with Saddam. As no small number of people in France claim to be experts in: principled republicanism; and in detecting liars; and in true pacifism; and in not believeing everything you hear; and in seeing the ugly truth behind grand-standing and claims of principles; and in spotting the good sides of leaders they normally don't approve of ("au moins Chirac a eu les couilles d'opposer Bush"), wouldn't it be appropriate if they, accordingly, would stop lauding their country and celebrating their culture at every turn of the road and if they would spread the criticism more evenly (as towards these men and the culture that spawned them).

Because, as you can see above, it has turned out (to nobody's surprise) that neither France nor any of the other "peace camp" members has/had the "couilles" to oppose Saddam or China or Russia or Iran or Zimbabwe or the United Nations or, indeed, anyone else who is not Uncle Sam.

Summing it all up is the Wall Street Journal :

Oil for Food is not about some isolated incidents of perceived or actual wrongdoing during the course of a seven-year effort to maintain sanctions on Iraq, monitor its oil flows and feed its people. Oil for Food is a story about what the U.N. is. And our conclusion from reading the 847-page report is that the U.N. is Oil for Food.

… Why Mr. Annan chose to see no evil on Iraqi sanctions violations, much less use his bully pulpit to denounce it (as he later denounced the Iraq war as "illegal"), is an interesting question. Our sense is that the U.N. Secretariat as a whole took the view that the sanctions regime was immoral and that Saddam was within his rights to break free of it.

Whatever the case, the Secretariat had a more than willing partner in the 661 Committee, and for reasons that are more easily comprehended. Iraq regularly steered contracts to Security Council members it believed were friendly to its political interests. Russian companies, for instance, did $19 billion in oil deals with Iraq, and French companies sold Saddam $3 billion in humanitarian assistance (much of which, the report notes, was diverted for Iraqi military purposes).

It's no coincidence, comrade, that France and Russia, as well as China (which did its own thriving business with Saddam) consistently downplayed the kickback allegations and pushed to have the sanctions regime eased. Only the U.S. and Britain made any effort to monitor Oil for Food for fraud, although even these efforts were lackluster until the Bush Administration came to office. We should also note the U.S. was itself guilty of looking the other way when it came to Iraq's oil smuggling through allies Jordan and Turkey.

So it was that the largest fraud ever recorded in history came about. Press reports often cite the overall size of Oil for Food at $60 billion, but Mr. Volcker's report makes clear that the real figure was in excess of $100 billion. From this, Saddam was able to derive $10.2 billion from illicit transactions. But the important point is that he was able to steer 10 times that sum toward his preferred clients in the service of his political aims.

None of this happened by accident. Mr. Volcker's report is replete with examples of incompetent U.N. oversight and tales of political wrangling among the permanent members of the Security Council. But the abiding fact is that it was the Western powers, not Saddam, who wanted Oil for Food at virtually any cost, because it offered the appearance of a meaningful policy in the absence of a real one, namely regime change. And it was the political convenience of this chimera that led the U.S. and the U.K. to tolerate, and the rest of the Security Council to feast on, the opportunities for corruption that were inscribed in the very nature of the program.

As for the U.N., it proved its worth to Saddam as the one hall of mirrors in which such shenanigans could take place. Yet even now we are told that "at least" Oil for Food fed the Iraqi people when they were on the edge of starvation, and this is accounted a U.N. success. That is false. Oil for Food offered a lifeline of cash and influence to a regime that was starving its people. The program did not corrupt the U.N. so much as exploit its essential nature. Now Mr. Annan wants to use this report as an endorsement of his "reform" proposals. Only at the U.N. could he dare to think he could get away with this.

Update: Robert Tracinski presented it thus:
President Bush gave a speech to the UN today asking its members to take vigorous action against terrorism--an exercise in futility, since the UN, by its very structure, serves and protects the world's dictatorships and terrorist states. (Note the scuttling, from a proposed UN reform, of an attempt to keep dictatorships from taking over the UN's human rights commission.)